Out of the cities and into nature. There are still the "must sees" like the Castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, an 8-hour Rhine cruise along the best UNESCO designated section of the river, etc., but being in the countryside offers us a welcome slower pace.
Rick Steves has an audio walking tour in Füssen, our home base in Bavaria, taking us along some of the back streets of this town which we never would have explored otherwise. It's a postcard town that looks like the setting for a fairy tale. Our Airbnb apartment there is big, airy, light, clean, and with wonderful hosts. But the real highlight of this part of the trip is a 22 mile bike ride around the lake, Forggensee.
It takes us about an hour to track down a bicycle rental place, but when we do, it is owned by a very welcoming fellow named Christian who immediately asks us about our president. He assures us that we should not be too concerned as all politicians are crazy, then he tells us to just follow the road along the lake and assures us that we won't get lost. Nevertheless, we have a ride filled with green pastures and greener forests, snowy mountains, and plenty of wrong turns. But it doesn't matter. Every few miles is a beer garden, some of which we stop at to sit in the sun, breathe in the fresh air, and watch the cows. The other bikers are happy to help us out with directions. One couple tells us, when they learn we are from California, about their visit to LA and bike riding over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Baden (bath) in Baden-Baden
In Baden-Baden, it's time for some more slow-paced pleasure in their co-ed and nude public thermal baths. Baden-Baden has been host to bathers since Roman times, enjoying great popularity, more recently with the likes of Goethe, Twain, and Nietzsche. Our masseuse (actually, body scrubber) tells us that he pummeled David Hockney many times before learning who he was.
The prescribed treatment is a regimented 4 hours long procedure, going from station to station, which includes whirlpool baths, steam rooms, dry heat rooms, even hotter dry rooms, shallow pools for floating lazily while staring at the ceiling, hot baths, a freezing cold plunge, and finally a dreamy room where we are wrapped in warm blankets by the attendant and fall into a sleep-like trance for 30 minutes before sitting down on lounge chairs in the solarium for a hot tea. It sounds odd, but this program, which the government of Germany recognizes as a legitimate health treatment and pays for patients who have an RX for stress relief, really seems quite therapeutic once we have gone through the process.
Afterwards, we both float down the street, everything looking crystal clear as if we just put on a new pair of rosy glasses.
For Bill, the experience challenges his ability to meditate. With nothing to do but stay present and experience the baths, it should be the perfect place to clear the mind. And it pretty much is. Not thinking. Not thinking. When thinking occurs, it comes in words, causing him to consider the nature of thought. Once we are born, maybe even in utero, we quickly realize that speech is an essential tool for comprehension. It is how we interpret, understand, and manipulate the world. Sometimes we even mistake words and experience as being the same thing. Silent awareness all but disappears as speech becomes the middleman between experiencing and interpreting sensory input. Okay. Stop thinking, monkey mind. No thinking, my monkey mind. Not thinking...
And so it goes until we are led into a dark and quiet room and drift into a land of dreams.
After so much hot weather and temperatures over 100' F, it is a relief to wake up to a cool breeze blowing through our bedroom window and the sun lighting up the room. The previous night we had arrived later than expected after making a stop to see Dresden, then confronting a rush-hour traffic jam approaching Berlin, hooking up with the owner of our apartment rental to drop off our luggage, then back into traffic to return our rental car, negotiating the U-bahn back to the apartment, extensively discussing the city with our host, then out once again grocery shopping for essentials, and making a late-night dinner.
What we see when we finally get to play tourist again is a surprisingly calm and relaxed urban landscape for such a big city; a mix of residential neighborhoods, historic areas, and business centers.
With so many memorials to the former Wall and the division between East and West Berlin, it takes some effort to try to fathom what it was like then, especially when there is now a whole generation of Berliners who grew up without the Wall. But despite the fact that Berlin, like all big cities, mostly consists of people going about their lives and living their personal stories, it impresses us as a city of memories: memories of the division of Berlin and Germany, memories of the Holocaust, memories of The World Wars, the decadent 1920s, Kaiser Wilhelm--so much that happened in just a single century with Berlin as the epicenter.